Have you ever heard of a ritual feast that lasts for more than sixty days and with more than sixty exquisite dishes to relish? Does not matter if you do not have a clue on this. To find your answer, head straight for the centuries old Sree Parthasarathy temple in the village of Aranmula in Pathanamthitta during August-September and partake in the popular Vallasadya, the longest mass ritual feast in the world. Vallasadya is a ritualistic feast, done as a vazhipadu (offering) by the devotees to Lord Krishna, the presiding deity at the Sree Parthasarathy temple. This year, the Vallasadya is from July 31 and goes up to October 2.
The devotee who offers the vazhipadu invites the crew of the snake-boat or Palliyodam of his choice to partake in the Vallasadya. Each snake-boat represents a region close to the village of Aranmula. The feast is held in the outer quadrangle of the Sree Parthasarathy temple, inside traditional dining halls called Oottupura. In Kerala, Oottupura is part of palace structures and temples used for giving food to people who work there and to the common public on special occasions.
As part of the Vallasadya the crew of the selected snake-boat will be accorded a customary reception on their arrival to the temple ghat. They circumambulate the temple, singing Vanchippattu, songs of the boatmen in praise of Lord Parthasarathy, before being led to the temple Oottupura (dining hall) for the feast. As the feast progresses, the guests demand more rice and dishes by singing in the same style as that of Vanchippattu. This generates an ambience filled with fun, hurried activities and a flow of energy that is unique to Vallasadya. As many as 50 to 64 items are usually served during the course of this sumptuous feast.
Each snake-boats or Palliyodams in local parlance is a treasured possession enjoying the status of a deity. These are the same boats that take part during the annual Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali. This Vallamkali (regatta) has more to do with the rituals than race. The event is held as an offering to Lord Parthasarathy, the presiding deity of the Parthasarathy temple at Aranmula and is noted for its resplendent regatta.
The snake-boat is unique in its structure that only the mid portion of the boat touches the water. It is believed that the 64 oarsmen sit on 64 steps, which represent 64 art forms. The eight oarsmen occupying the front portion represent the Ashta Dikpalakas (guardians of the eight directions) and the four helmsmen who help steer the boat represent four Vedas. There are about 51 snake-boats taking part in the Vallasadya for this year.
The procession carrying rice, provision, vegetables and other articles in a specially designed vessel, Thiruvonathoni, for the feast on the Thiruvonam day at the Sree Parthasarathy temple is also a fabulous spectacle to behold. The holy River Pamba passionately embraces the splash of the oarsmen rowing to reach the temple for the feast. The cultural and historical significance of Vallasadya adorn the unique heritage of Aranmula.
For more details log on to: www.aranmulavallamkali.in